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Saga - The Human Condition CD (album) cover




Crossover Prog

3.49 | 114 ratings

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Eclectic / Prog Metal / Heavy Prog Team
3 stars Among the many albums by the Canadian band Saga, 'The Human Condition', released in 2009, holds the distinction of being the only studio album by the band without lead vocalist Michael Sadler. Sadler had retired from the band after the release of their previous album '10,000 Days', but the rest of the band wanted to continue on, so they started auditioning new lead vocalists. They ended up hiring Rob Moratti from Toronto to take Sadler's place, but the big difference was not only in vocal style, but also the fact that Moratti did not play other instruments like Sadler did. Also, there was the question about how would the fans handle a different vocalist.

One good thing that happened because of this change was that the band decided to take a deeper dive into progressive music as it was the more progressive songs that the fans liked the best. The basic instrumental section that has been pretty consistent through most of the band's history is still there; the Chrichtons and Gilmour along with Brian Doerner on drums who had been with the band now for a few years.

The Human Condition ' A very fast keyboard section starts it all off answered by a just-as-speedy guitar section playing off the same melodic line. There is definitely a leaning towards a heavier prog sound as the thick instrumental beginning continues, and there are some treated vocals that serve more as a background to the instrumentally heavy track, which when it reaches the halfway point, quiets down a bit for a more atmospheric section, but after a minute, things go back to rapid-fire notes from keys and guitar again. It is admittedly quite a rousing beginning that will get your attention, though we don't get much of an idea yet how the new vocalist sounds because the few vocals in the track are heavily treated.

Step Inside ' The music goes for a harder sound next which is uncharacteristic of the band in most cases. The vocals are much more out front now, and they aren't bad, but you will also notice now that they really don't stand out like Sadler's vocals did. In fact, on this track, you almost think you are listening to a different band. The melodic line's not really complex, but it's not standard either and it has a somewhat tricky meter to it. However, I don't find the vocals as dynamic and unique as before.

Hands of Time ' More of a ballad with a lot of orchestral synths, and a melody a bit similar to Queensryche's 'Silent Lucidity', but not quite as melodically memorable. It's not bad, but not that original, the instrumental break has some cool effects though.

Avalon ' A nice, upbeat song with a very positive feel to the lyrics. Gilmour's vocals come into play a bit more here, but it's still headed over by Moratti. The synth riff is quite stately and the guitar work is really good here. The instrumental work hearkens back to the old Saga. But you really miss Sadler's dynamic sound here.

A Number with a Name ' A nice progressive riff and memorable melody. The prog edge is here as the movement seems inclined to go for a Neo-prog feel, and a good one at that. The listener should be feeling quite excited about this track as it is one of the best on the album, but what makes it the best is the instrumental complexity, not necessarily the somewhat bland (at least compared to Sadler) vocals.

Now is Now ' a basic midtempo track that does not do much of anything. It sounds like it could have been a candidate for a single

Let It Go ' a bit heavier, but again, it's just a good track, not an outstanding one. Another candidate for a single, but at least the instrumental break is really good, but it's brought down by the mediocre vocals.

Crown of Thorns ' Return to the obvious harder sound of this album. This is one of the better songs of the album, and should have been the direction the band would have taken if Moratti was going to remain. A great, complex track with plenty of highlights.

You Look Good to Me ' Upbeat, but too poppy sounding, and doesn't fit in with the darker sound of the album. A bad ending.

Overall, this album isn't bad and it shows an updating of the band's classic sound. The change was quite risky for the band, yet I really like the instrumental feel of it all and the fact that it is heavier, but the new vocalist just doesn't make the band stand out and ends up bringing all the great changes down to a feeling of mediocrity at times. There is nothing wrong with the Neo-prog sound that they were going for, however, the fans were not really looking for the sound to be updated, nor did it really need to be in most cases. While it is true that this album at least stands out from Saga's extensive discography, it stands out for the wrong reasons.

The bad side of it all is that the band doesn't seem as unique as it was before. It sounded almost like a new band, and that was the biggest mistake here, I think. For those that never cared for Saga's unique style and sound, this might be an album that could appeal to you especially if your taste leans towards the Neo-prog sound. Except for bits and pieces, this ends up sounding more like a debut album from a talented band, not an album from a band where most of the members have been around for a long time. Of course, as Saga fans know, Sadler revoked his own retirement and returned to the band on the next album '20/20' released in 2012, which also saw the band go back to its more tried and true formula, for better or worse. As for this album, I can't bring myself to consider it as anything more than a 'good' album which could have been much better.

TCat | 3/5 |


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